StreetsPAC's Testimony to City Council BQX Task Force

StreetsPAC gave the following testimony today to the New York City Council's Task Force on the BQX, the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector streetcar line:

In general, enhancements to public transportation are things that we should embrace as a city. New transit lines that enhance connectivity and provide service to areas that have been underserved by existing systems have the potential to greatly improve people’s lives.

So we’d like to sit here today and welcome the proposed BQX with open arms, but there are a number of reasons for concern.

The cost of building the BQX will be significant, and it’s easy to argue that parallel bus service, which would offer equal or superior transit performance, could be implemented far more cheaply, and more quickly as well. Most new streetcar projects built across the country during the past decade, however, have been constructed primarily to enhance economic development, rather than as robust additions to local transit networks. The costs tend to be borne widely, while the benefits accrue much more narrowly.

It’s also easy to argue that investments in transit would have much greater return if directed toward improving the city’s struggling bus network, building protected bus lanes, speeding up the implementation of signal priority and off-board, all-door boarding, and the like.

Most importantly, there are two essential features critical to the BQX’s success, and without ironclad commitments to those features, the project should not proceed.

The first is fare integration with the existing New York City Transit system. If the BQX is to serve as a pathway to economic opportunity for those neighborhoods along the planned route, it must offer seamless and free transfers to and from intersecting subway and bus lines. Requiring people to pay a second fare to connect to other transit options will create a barrier that those most in need won’t be able to afford, and will render the BQX a streetcar line serving mostly affluent riders.

The second key element required for the BQX to succeed is 100% dedicated right-of-way along the entirety of the route. Where streetcars have failed, it has been principally due to incursion by drivers into the path of streetcars. We all know far too well New York drivers’ propensity to double-park with impunity; to think that somehow that won’t happen along a streetcar route is pure folly. Right-of-way cannot be enforced; it must be created and maintained structurally. And without completely dedicated right-of-way, the BQX will be doomed to failure.

We urge the task force to mandate fare integration and exclusive right-of-way if the BQX project is to move forward.

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